Lang Lang’s return: first review

David Noel Edwards in the Berkshire Edge:

On July 6, Lang Lang performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 at Tanglewood in the manner most natural to him. (This was after a year’s absence due to an injury to his left arm that caused him to change his program from the first Tchaikovsky piano concerto to the Mozart Concerto No. 24, which involves less of the pounding typical of Romantic era concertos.) He lifted his left arm high above his head whenever he felt like it, mugged for the audience a few times, tilted his head back at irregular intervals, played every note in the piece as though it were his last day on earth, and generally failed to conceal his immoderate enjoyment of making music in that exact spot at that exact time. Everyone knew he was having the time of his life. But it wasn’t vulgar. It was Mozart….

Read on here.

Message from Lang Lang:

I had a wonderful time at Tanglewood Music Festival. Thank you Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons 🎻🎹🎼 for an unforgettable concert! Another thank you to all of my fans for your continued support

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  • „If anyone alive knows the proper tempo for all the movements of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, it is Andris Nelsons.“

    This alone says a lot about the reviews „depth“ and „intellegence“…
    There is not such thing as „proper“ tempo in music, especially live performance… And to elevate Nelsons to the level of Tchaikovsky specialists is an insult to this great music…

    • I’m not sure about the “specialist” comment — I don’t think Nelsons is being labelled one. But I have found his Tchaikovsky symphonies from Birmingham among the best of late, and his 6 has real stature.

      • I don’t see any connection between the poor wording violin nero criticizes and your high regard of Nelsons.

        I agree with violin vero: this is not a wording you would hear from a knowledgeable musician. A statement about the critic identifying with Nelsons’ tempi more than with any other conductors’ would be more appropriate.

  • I thought the critic made a good point:

    Not everyone appreciates exuberant expressivity in classical music performances, but critics in the year of Bernstein’s 100th birthday are finding it more difficult than ever to maintain even the appearance of reasoned thinking in their expressions of contempt for a pianist whose indecorous indulgences offend them deeply even as they celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s own indecorous indulgences (in particular his famously balletic podium manner).

    Some may protest, “Ego-driven performances are, by definition, vulgar.”

    Perhaps they are, but Lang Lang’s performances are not, by definition, ego-driven. They are passion-driven, but more than a few commentators seem incapable of distinguishing between the two. Yet they persist in saying, “I know vulgarity when I see it,” which simply means, “I know perfectly well what my own opinions are, and that’s proof enough of their validity.”

    Since he draws a lot of parallels with Bernstein, though, I have to say: while Bernstein certainly had a very healthy (not to say enormous) ego, his indecorous indulgences usually seemed to involve wanting to share what he’d learned: “Listen to this super interesting thing I found,” whether it’s a detail of voicing or tempi for an entire Tchaikovsky symphony. You never get the idea that he took Tchaik 6 so slowly just so he could stay onstage longer. With Lang Lang, mostly what I get is an exuberant sense of “hey, look what I can do!”

  • An interpreter’s passion is only valid if it is tailored to serve the passion inherent in the music being performed. What has upset critics is that Lang Lang frequently applies his own personal passion to his performances, irrespective of whether or not it is appropriate to the music he’s playing – so, in other words, it’s a rock-star performer’s approach, rather than that of a responsible, educated musician. And for this reason, his legions of fans tend to be uneducated about classical music, and therefore less demanding of his interpretative skills. Narcissism is the poorest of interpretive tools, but it speaks volumes to such a fan-base. 30 years ago, a Lang-Lang wouldn’t have made it beyond 1st base, but in this era of low-tastes and diminishing audiences, the highest placed presenters of classical music are turning to the Lang Lang’s of this world to keep it afloat, while the cognoscenti are being dismissed as dour snobs.

    • “the highest placed presenters of classical music are turning to the Lang Lang’s of this world to keep it afloat, while the cognoscenti are being dismissed as dour snobs.”

      You’ll have to ask Barenboim, Eschenbach, and Rattle why they supported him in the first place. Without these early backers Lang would not have made anywhere as far.

      I heard the broadcast from Tanglewood. It was OK. His technique does not seem quite recovered – there were some muddled runs in the first movement. The principal theme of the second movement was very well played. But he retains his old problem of arbitrarily changing dynamics, tempo and articulation without any apparent musical reasoning behind his decisions.

      I’m no fan of his, but when you read some reviews that are bordering on abusive, you do wonder if there is something else at play, especially considering the nearly polar opposite reception of Trifonov, the pianist with the most similar playing style to Lang, among some “cognoscenti”.

      • Barenboim, Eschenbach & Rattle weren’t above cashing-in on the fame of what they thought was a 7-day wonder – and they did their best to give Lang Lang some badly needed lessons (which apparently didn’t sink in). No question he has talent, but he’s a student who will always need lessons.

  • “You’ll have to ask Barenboim, Eschenbach, and Rattle why they supported him in the first place”

    Wouldn’t some, if not many, would have considered those three to have been ‘Lang Langs’ in the earlier stages of their careers?

    “Without these early backers Lang would not have made anywhere as far”

    Couldn’t you say that about pretty much anybody who ‘makes it’ in the music industry?

    I see this whole process as being cyclical.

    • In addition, why would any of you criticize a concert you never heard?

      You would, no doubt, totally lambaste any real critic who actually did that.

    • “Couldn’t you say that about pretty much anybody who ‘makes it’ in the music industry?”

      Exactly. My point is Lang must have something that all these people saw as worth cultivating, unless you are hopelessly cynical.

      “In addition, why would any of you criticize a concert you never heard?”

      I don’t know if you are referring to me. But while I was not there, I do have a recording of the broadcast. So there is that.

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